The Washington, D.C. area offers access to a wide range of recreational activities, with both mountains and ocean located within a short drive. Whether you want to bike, hike, run, or paddle, you’ll be inspired to get outdoors. In addition to the large and popular places listed here, the metropolitan area is dotted with numerous neighborhood parks as well as an array of historical and natural sites.
Washington D.C. Region
Rock Creek Park
A national park running through the heart of the city, Rock Creek Park offers both paved and unpaved trails for hiking, running, walking, and biking. More than twice as large as New York’s Central Park, Rock Creek Park is also distinctive for never having been developed: it contains the original flora and fauna of the area. In addition to the principal section, which lies within the District, the park follows Rock Creek into Maryland. Normally a busy commuter byway, large portions of Rock Creek Parkway are closed to cars on weekends, creating another path for bikers and walkers to enjoy. The park is accessible from many neighborhoods, including just outside the NIH, and can also be entered from the popular attractions such as the National Zoo and Carter Barron Amphitheatre.
Many of Washington’s most famous monuments and memorials are located on the National Mall. The mall’s park area extends from the Lincoln Memorial on the Potomac to the steps of the U.S. Capitol. The mall’s tree-lined paths offer shade for joggers and strollers during the summer months, and can be crowded with people attending rallies and festivals at any time of the year.
U.S. National Arbretum
The 446-acre National Arboretum features nine miles of paved pathways through diverse collections of azaleas, dogwoods, state trees, and ferns. With 150 specimens, the bonsai collection is one of the largest in the world.
George Washington Memorial Parkway
The Parkway is a scenic greenway that connects many of Washington’s historic sites and parks, including Mount Vernon, Theodore Roosevelt Island, the Clara Barton National Historic Site, and Glen Echo Park .
Great Falls Park
The 800 acre Great Falls Park of Potomac, Maryland offers hiking, rock climbing, and more all within 14 miles of the U.S. Capitol. The park features various hiking trails that meander along the robust Potomac River, offering the more adventurous a chance at whitewater kayaking. The park also provides opportunity for rock climbers to attempt the challenging Billy Goat Trail. Family activities include a chance to experience 20 foot waterfalls, the Patowmack Canal, several lookout checkpoints, and weekend tours along the C&O Canal.
Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail
The Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail is a system of trails set between the Potomac River Basin region of Virginia and the Allegheny Highlands of Pennsylvania. Hikers can enjoy over 830 miles of designed trails that interconnect with other major parks, including the Chesapeake and Ohio National Historical Park, Scott's Run Nature Preserve, and Potomac Heritage Trail. One highlight is the stunning 18 mile long Mount Vernon Trail along the Washington Memorial Parkway, which offers great views of many Washington, DC and Northern Virginia monuments.
Chesapeake & Ohio Canal (C&O Canal)
Located along the northern bank of the Potomac River, The C&O Canal meanders down from Cumberland, MD to Washington, DC for 185 miles. Built from 1828 to 1850, The C&O Canal Towpath has historical charm and is popular among locals for jogging, hiking, walking, and cycling.
Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park
The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park offers tremendous opportunities for outdoor activities. Visitors can canoe on the canal, run or bike on the towpath, enjoy bouldering and technical climbs at Carderock, and hike for miles along the rocky terrain of the Billy Goat Trail. The Potomac River offers tranquil kayaking opportunities near Georgetown, and Class IV rapids around Great Falls.
Capital Crescent Trail
Following the former path of the old Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, this scenic 11-mile paved path runs from downtown Bethesda south to the Potomac River and then southeast to Georgetown. Attracting over one million walkers, joggers, bikers, and rollerbladers each year, the Capital Crescent Trail was recognized as one of the "21 great places that show how transportation can enliven a community" by the Project for Public Spaces in 2005.
Appalachian National Scenic Trail
The full Appalachian Trail runs 2,175 miles from Georgia to Maine with nearly 600 miles passing through Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia. The Maryland segment, at 41 miles, is ideal for day hikes or multiday backpacking trips.
Assateague Island National Seashore
Located just a dozen miles south of Ocean City on Maryland’s eastern shore, Assateague is famous for its wild horses and is great for walking, sea kayaking, and beachfront camping.
Tucked away near Urbana and Frederick, MD, Sugarloaf Mountain is a local favorite. 250,000 visitors flock to Sugarloaf year-round to enjoy various marked winding trails for hiking, horseback riding, and beautiful look-out views of the pastoral landscape at an elevation of 1,282 feet.
Wheaton Regional Park
Wheaton Regional Park, a popular Montgomery County fixture, comprises a system of 536 acres of relaxing recreation. Families can enjoy miniature train rides, horseback riding, fishing, or indoor and outdoor ice skating at the Wheaton Ice Arena and Outdoor Rink/Pavilion. Visitors also can enjoy the scenic trails and tour the prized fifty acre Brookside Gardens and Brookside Nature Center and chat with the locals at Pine Lake.
Little Bennett Regional Park
Little Bennett Regional Park of Clarksburg, MD is the largest campground and recreational park facility in Montgomery County, MD and hosts an array of amenities for families and leisure hikers. It is comprised of over 3,700 acres and 20 miles of walking trails linked to a nearby forest and local streams for tranquil walks and horseback rides. Little Bennett Regional Park also has a campground facility for camping getaways and a fully functioning golf course.
Black Hill Regional Park
Operational year round from sunrise to sunset, the Black Hill Regional Park in Boyds, MD provides casual hikers, families, and outdoor enthusiasts a host of recreational opportunities. The park stretches about 1,800 acres and includes picnic areas, playgrounds, a fitness course, paved and natural trails, along with fishing and canoeing on the beautiful Little Seneca Lake. Black Hill Regional Park also hosts a variety of annual events and seasonal programs, such as the Twilight Concerts, Summer Stage, hiking tours, canoe and kayak classes, public boating nature programs, and more.
Seneca Creek Greenway Trail
Situated within the 6,000 acre Seneca Creek State Park, the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail is part of a cluster of trails in Gaithersburg, MD. The 16.5 mile, easy-to-moderate trail affords locals and visitors beautiful views of the park's Clopper Lake and access to the park's 18-hole disc golf course and neighboring Schaeffer Farm trail. The trail is also home of the popular annual Seneca Creek Greenway Trail Marathon and 50K race.
Catoctin Mountain Park
Catoctin Mountain Park is an attractive 5,800 rolling acre federal park and is fit for camping, fishing, hiking, and horseback riding. Nestled in Thurmont, MD, the park offers visitors 25 miles of trails, a forest, panoramic mountain vistas, and recreational camps including the famous Presidential Park, Camp David.
Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway extends from Virginia into North Carolina, and is famous for its beautiful Skyline Drive. The entire route offers breathtaking scenery, with the section in Virginia offering vistas overlooking the Great Valley of Virginia year-round and a dazzling display of colorful foliage during the fall.
Shenandoah National Park
Located in western Virginia, Shenandoah National Park includes part of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Appalachian Trail, and Skyline Drive. It is a great place for hiking and camping, offering one of the area’s best known day-hikes: the challenging scramble up the craggy face of Old Rag.
Just 75 miles outside Washington, DC, Shenandoah National Park has over 500 miles of trails, including 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail. Visitors can take in spectacular views of Skyline Drive and mountain ranges or hike among the majestic oak trees and waterfalls dotted along the Appalachian Trail. Old Rag Mountain is a particularly popular hiking path in the park. Scott's Run Nature Preserve Park Located in northern Fairfax County, VA, Scott's Run Nature Preserve Park affords Washington, DC dwellers a taste of beautiful 380+ acres of well maintained, connected trails suited for outdoor biking and slowpaced hiking. The park also features a waterfall and charming river views along the way.
Bull Run Occoquan Trail
For a scenic, long, and rigorous hike within an hour's drive of Washington, visit the Bull Run Occoquan Trail, based along the Bull Run-Occoquan River/Tributary in Loudoun County, VA. The 18-mile long trail provides a challenging, yet invigorating adventure with wooded hills, streams, and floodplains and it is characterized by a wide variety of vegetation, perfect for the avid horticulturalist.
Prince William Forest Park
Prince William Forest Park is a retreat of natural beauty, complete with nearly 37 miles of hiking trails and 21 miles of roadways and trails for cycling, hiking and walking, all within a 15,000 acre piedmont forest. Visitors can enjoy various camping options, including a full service campground.
Mason Neck State Park
Mason Neck State Park, of Fairfax County, Virginia, is set on a peninsula extending out from the Potomac River, a major stream of the Chesapeake Bay. The peninsula is a birdwatcher's delight; various wildlife including great blue herons, whistling swans, and bald eagles inhabit the area. This day park also offers 1,814 acres of hardwood forests and several wetland areas for unique hiking opportunities in addition to guided canoe trips on Belmont Bay and Kane's Creek.
Sky Meadows State Park
Sky Meadows State Park offers a serene escape on the east side of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The park provides beautiful vistas of the foothills and access to the Appalachian Trail. The activities and amenities consist of hiking, fishing, primitive camping, picnicking, and nature and history programs. Additionally, the park has more than 12 miles of moderate to advanced hiking trails leading to the great Appalachian Trail. Sky Meadow Park connects to Harper's Ferry in West Virginia via a three-day hike in addition to Shenandoah National Park. The park also has challenging 6 mile length trails, perfect for horseback riding.
George Washington and Jefferson National Forests
The picturesque George Washington and Jefferson National Forests span over 1.8 million acres of natural lands, mountain ranges, and hiking trails. As part of the Appalachian Mountains from Virginia to West Virginia and Kentucky, the Forests extend alongside Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountain ranges and comprise one of the largest public parks in the country. The combined Forests feature over 2,000 miles of trails and various year-round activities, including hiking, wild trout fishing, backpacking, cross country skiing, and mountain biking. Additionally, the forests host ten individual National Recreation Trails as well as the nearby breathtaking Shenandoah Valley and Shenandoah National Park of Virginia. All roads lead to the Blue Ridge Parkway, which offers beautiful views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and connects to the spectacular Skyline Drive.
Dolly Sods Wilderness
Designated as a U.S. Wilderness Area of West Virginia in the Allegheny Mountains, Dolly Sods Wilderness boasts over 17,000 acres and a large system of nearly 20 trails for hiking. Bordering the Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area, visitors also frequent Dolly Sods for seasonal blueberry and huckleberry picking.